Corrected: Canada coalition talk reflects opposition weakness

Wed Jun 9, 2010 10:48am EDT
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(Corrects number of seats held by Liberals and New Democrats to 113 from 125)

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Six years after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper merged two right-leaning parties and took power, the leader of the centrist Liberals, the biggest opposition party, is musing about a coalition of his own.

Although the idea has merit on paper at least, talk of a deal with the smaller left-leaning New Democrats has triggered a fierce debate among Liberals that has only underlined the weakness of the party, which lost power in early 2006 and continues to trail in the polls.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's comments about a coalition are also likely to serve as a propaganda gift for the minority Conservative government, which says the New Democrats under leader Jack Layton are extreme tax-and-spend left wingers.

"This is going to make a wonderful target. You think you're voting for Michael Ignatieff but in fact you're going to be voting to make Jack Layton minister of finance," said Tom Flanagan, former chief of staff to Harper.

"I think the Conservatives will have a field day with the possibility of a socialist coalition ... this will help them nail it down," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The last election was in October 2008 and by rights there should not be another vote any time soon, given Harper's insistence that Canadians want Ottawa to focus on the economy.

But suspicions remain that if Harper sees enough of an advantage building up over the Liberals he will repeat his tactics of September 2008 and move to have Parliament dissolved, triggering an immediate election.   Continued...